Articles | Volume 15, issue 1
Research article
07 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 07 Jan 2015

Seasonal characteristics of fine particulate matter (PM) based on high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometric (HR-ToF-AMS) measurements at the HKUST Supersite in Hong Kong

Y. J. Li, B. P. Lee, L. Su, J. C. H. Fung, and C.K. Chan

Abstract. Atmospheric particulate matter (PM) remains poorly understood due to the lack of comprehensive measurements at high time resolution for tracking its dynamic features and the lack of long-term observation for tracking its seasonal variability. Here, we present highly time-resolved and seasonal compositions and characteristics of non-refractory components in PM with a diameter less than 1 μm (NR-PM1) at a suburban site in Hong Kong. The measurements were made with an Aerodyne high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (HR-ToF-AMS) at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Air Quality Research Supersite for 4 months, with one in each season of the year. The average NR-PM1 concentration of ~ 15 μg m−3 is higher than those AMS measurements made in South Korea and Japan, but lower than those in North China, the Yangtze River Delta and the nearby Pearl River Delta. The seasonal dependence of the total NR-PM1 monthly averaged concentrations was small, but that of the fractions of the species in NR-PM1 was significant. Site characteristic plays an important role in the relative fractions of species in NR-PM1 and our results are generally consistent with measurements at other non-urban sites in this regard. Detailed analyses were conducted on the AMS data in the aspects of (1) species concentrations, (2) size distributions, (3) degree of oxygenation of organics, and (4) positive matrix factorization (PMF)-resolved organic factors in a seasonal context, as well as with air mass origin from back-trajectory analysis. Sulfate had the highest fraction in NR-PM1 (> 40%), and the surrogates of secondary organic species – semi-volatile oxygenated organic aerosol (SVOOA) and low-volatility oxygenated organic aerosol (LVOOA) – prevailed (~ 80%) in the organic portion of NR-PM1. Local contributions to the organic portion of NR-PM1 at this suburban site was strongly dependent on season. The hydrocarbon-like organic aerosol (HOA) factor related to local traffic emissions contributed > 10% to organic aerosols in spring and summer but only 6–7% in autumn and winter. The cooking organic aerosol (COA) factor contributed > 10% to organic aerosols in winter. With the aid of highly time-resolved data, diurnal patterns of the degree of oxygenation of organic aerosols were used to determine the sources and formation processes of the least understood organic portion of PM. The oxygen-to-carbon atomic ratio (O : C) and average carbon oxidation state OS C) showed little variation in autumn and winter, when the long-range transport of oxidized organics dominated, whereas they peaked in the afternoon in spring and summer, when locally produced secondary organic aerosol prevailed. Air mass origin, in contrast, had a strong influence on both NR-PM1 concentrations and the fractions of species in NR-PM1. The findings of the current study provide a better understanding of the role of air mass origin in the seasonal characteristics of the PM composition and the relative importance of local vs. transported organic aerosols in this region.

Short summary
(1) NR-PM1 at the HKUST Supersite was highly aged, with a high sulfate content and highly oxygenated organics. (2) Seasonal variation in NR-PM1 concentration was not obvious, but the relative fractions of different species showed strong seasonal dependence. (3) Both NR-PM1 concentrations and the relative fractions showed a strong dependence on air mass origin. (4) Both locally produced and regionally transported organic aerosols contribute to the organic content of PM at this site.
Final-revised paper